By Jim Schlitz
NISKAYUNA — Saratoga Springs has a veteran-laden field hockey team, and some new kids who can play the game, too.
Maybe that’s why the Blue Streaks were part of every preseason conversation concerning the race for the Suburban Council championship.
“We lost a lot, but we have a lot back,” Saratoga coach Jo-Anne Hostig said after Wednesday’s 3-1 season-starting win at Niskayuna. “We have 14 returning players and a couple who moved up from the junior varsity for sectionals.”
One of them, sophomore Maggie Conway, scored her first two varsity goals before Niskayuna was able to penetrate the circle for the first time. Aubree Snyder added a breakaway goal late in a dominant first half for a Saratoga team seeking its first league crown since 2008.
“I liked how we started. I liked how we were aggressive,” said Hostig. “We were getting good looks. We were getting opportunities. Last year, we didn’t get enough.”
Last year and the two before, the Silver Warriors were the premier team in the Suburban Council with a 40-2 record. Ally Wells and Ellie Petraccione are the lone starters back from last season’s edition that went 13-1 in the league and made its fifth straight Section II Class A title-game appearance.
“She [Hostig] has a lot of good individual players who work well as a unit,” said Niskayuna Warriors coach Alison Broomhead. “I have a bunch of talented girls up from the JV who are getting used to it. We’re just trying to mesh.”
With long-hitting midfielder Carrie Hanks among the missing, Niskayuna had a difficult time generating offense. Saratoga had no such problem, and finished with a 16-2 advantage in penalty corners.
“We were passing so well. It didn’t matter who was in there,” said Hostig. “That was a nice feeling.”
Two of Saratoga’s five returning starters, Marissa Folts and Samantha Petruzzo, set up Conway’s goals with accurate diagonal passes 2:57 into the game and with 16:22 left in the opening frame.
Another veteran who missed half of the 2013 season with an injury, Marissa Larkin, neatly dribbled around Niskayuna netminder Elena Grande (eight saves) before setting up Snyder for an open-netter with 7:49 left.
“It was definitely a team effort,” said Conway, one of eight Saratoga players who compete for the ADK Field Hockey club. “We communicated well. We were looking for open girls and thinking on our feet.”
Both of Conway’s goals finished off penalty corners which the sophomore started with insert passes. She was on the left post for each of her tallies.
“In my job as an inserter, it’s important for me to get my stick down and get to the post,” Conway said.
“If it was last year’s team, we would have known Saratoga shoots for the corner,” said Broomhead. “I told my team exactly where it would go. We’re young, and we’ll have to learn from our mistakes.”
Wells scored Niskayuna’s goal on a penalty stroke with 16:04 left in the second half after Saratoga netminder Sam Geils trapped the ball during a scramble. The Niskayuna Warroiors didn’t have a shot reach Geils during open play.
“We’re working on fundimantals. Having a thought when we receive the ball. What’s the next play that will help us advance forward,” said Broomhead. “The girls had heart. They never gave up. That’s something we’re not lacking. Now it’s time to develop skills.”
“We can only go up from here,” said Wells, a senior captain. “We definitely have energy. I think we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to get back in the swing of things
Saratoga is already there, and looking for more.
“We’ve got a lot to learn,” said Hostig, whose Blue Streaks placed third in the league last year (9-5) and reached the sectional semifinals. “The good thing is we’re ahead of the curve with so many kids back.”